LONDON — The real drama in this tournament happened some 90 minutes before tip-off of the U.S. Senior Men’s National Team’s game against Lithuania at the Olympic Basketball Arena.
Russia’s 77-74 comeback win over Spain in the morning session changes things for all of the medal contenders here and essentially removes Russia from the U.S. path until the gold medal game, were both teams to make it there.
Naturally, we’re moving ahead in the story here, perhaps too far ahead in the story for anyone’s liking.
“We’re a long way from that,” said Russia coach David Blatt, an American. “We’ve got a game against Australia coming up. And then we’ve got a quarterfinal game that will be a tough match no matter who we play. So we know there is a ways to go.”
But it’s on the minds of many now that Russia is in control of Group B and the U.S. owns Group A, setting up a potential rematch of the controversial gold medal game from 40 years ago.
After taking down the reigning European champions, after trailing 20-2 in the first quarter, Russia is not intimidated by any other team in this competition.
“I think the American team is the best team in the world right now,” Andrei Kirilenko said. “But in a one-game situation, anything can happen. Every game is different. You might score 156 points in one game but the next game is different … and I’d love to play the U.S. for a gold medal, but we’re a long way from that. But you have to play the best to beat the best.”
The “best” have business of their own to tend to right now in the form of Lithuania. That said, the U.S. players were in the stands for the Russia-Spain game. They had head phones on but you know they were paying close attention to the action and taking mental notes.
Just in case …
— Dive in with us here for a (nearly) play-by-play game blog from the U.S. vs. Lithuania showdown —
— FOURTH QUARTER —
99-94 U.S. win, courtesy of the finisher … LeBron James!
32.1: Kleiza with another layup. 99-92.
1:10: LeBron with another drive and finish. Any doubts about whose team this is are being answered right now folks. 99-90.
1:58: Kleiza with the layup. Lithuania is not going anywhere. 97-90.
2:08: LeBron works his way into the lane and finishes on the left side, 97-88.
2:46: LeBron misses a corner 3, CP3 throws the mid-air pass to D. Will for another 3 that falls this time. 95-88. They’re stubborn and apparently right to be so. 95-88.
3:14: Songaila silences the “USA” chants with a layup. 92-88.
3:41: LeBron finishes on the break with a dunk after another steal. 92-86.
3;58: Lebron with the stop and pop 3-pointer. 90-86. They’re going to keep shooting from behind that line, no matter what anyone says. Maddening, I know.
4:29: D. Will finishes on the break on a drop off from Cp3, 87-84 U.S. Nerves cranking up in here. Half the crowd chanting or the U.S. and the other for Lithuania. Good atmosphere in here.
5:36: CP3 for the 85-84 U.S. lead with a 3-pointer.
5:46: Mantas Kalnietis for the lead on a layup. 84-82.
6:06: Durant’s dunk on the pretty feed CP3 ties it. 82-82.
6:58: Kleiza with a monster 3 for the 82-80 lead. Upset brewing?
7:11: Crowd finally starts chanting for Lithuania. Took them a while to buy into what we’ve been seeing most of the night. This is anyone’s game right now.
7:26: Another missed 3, this one from Kobe. A brutal 7-for-28 after they made 29 against Nigeria. Can’t wait to see the shift in tone after this one, win or lose (yes, I said win or lose).
7:50: Pocius makes it a one-point game with another layup. 80-79.
8:16: Kleiza with the easy layup. 80-77.
8:59: Pocius finishes a traditional 3-point play. He’s getting it done out here. 80-75.
9:11: Melo is back in his NBA wheelhouse, working on the wing and draining the 17-footer.
— THIRD QUARTER —
1.9: D. Will follows suit and finishes the quarter with a driving layup and a 78-72 U.S. lead. Still no real sense of worry from the U.S. (or this crowd, for that matter). Ten minutes is a long time.
36.9: Melo finally goes inside and scores on a layup. 76-72.
47.1: Pocius with a fast break layup and 74-72 game.
1:13: Falling in love with the 3-point shot will get you in trouble in games like this. The U.S. is 7-for-26 and doing the P. Diddy on them, “Can’t Stop, Won’t Stop” taking them.
2:04: Westbrook, Mr. Hang Time himself, with the gliding layup, foul and free throw for a 72-69 lead.
2:33: More free throw woes for the U.S. a miss from Love on the first and then a lane violation.
2:41: Melo comes up limping after fouling Remaidas Seibutis, who ties the game at 69-69, with two free throws. Not sure what he did. Looks like he might have landed awkwardly on his left foot.
2:57: Melo breaks the tie with two free throws. But the U.S. has to buckle up here. Well played by Lithuania.
3:10: Paulius Jankunas with the blow-by on LeBron and finishes with the dunk to tie the game at 67-67.
3:55: The U.S is in a game here, up 67-65 and refusing to go inside on offense.
5:32: LeBron sinks the first of two free throws. 67-61. The U.S. is gambling a bit more in the passing lanes and cashing in, 16 turnovers for Lithuania now.
5:46: Kleiza picks up his third foul. Has to be careful here since they are leaving him on the floor.
6:38: Kobe misses the second of two free throws.The free throw shooting (11-for-20) is a bigger problem right now than the 3-point shooting (7-for-23). Lead is a slim 64-61.
6:56: No issues on that 3-pointer in Kobe’s face from Jasikevicius. 63-61 U.S.
7:11: The U.S. with another steal as Lithuania tries to get the ball up the floor. They are having some communication issues between Valanciunas and Jasikevicius, new school and old school.
8:15: LeBron with a layup on the break, switching hands in mid-air just to show off a bit. 62-56.
8:33: Durant nails a 3 off of the steal of the steal of the inbounds pass. 60-56.
8:41: LeBron gets the lead right back on a driving layup. 57-56.
9:19: Lithuania takes a 56-55 lead on a 3 from Sarunas Jasikevicius and it barely registers with the crowd. They acted like it was no big deal. Interesting.
9:51: Valanciunas finishes with a layup on an easy pick and roll as Lithuania cuts into the lead right away and the
— HALFTIME —
Too many defensive breakdowns and nearly as many 3-point attempts (19) as 2-point attempts (23) would explain the shooting struggles. Percentage inside the arc compared to outside is nearly doubled. Pretty sure Coach K and his staff will mention that in their chat during the break.
The foul trouble and spotty free throw shooting (9-for-16) didn’t help either. It’s going to be interesting to see how locked in the U.S. is when they hit the floor for third quarter.
Lithuania is shooting a robust 56 percent from the floor and a very calculated 57 percent from deep. They’re not winding up and taking wild 3 to try and stay with the U.S. They’re playing a very controlled game, save for the nine turnovers. They are battling on the boards and unfazed by the speed and athleticism the U.S. brings to the table.
— SECOND QUARTER —
0.0: D. will bricks a step-back 3-pointer at the buzzer, punctuating the U.S. struggles in the first half. They lead 55-51 and have shot just 6-for-19 from beyond the 3-point line.
:54: LeBron’s turnover leads to a 3-on-1 break for Lithuania and a 55-50 lead. They’re scoring at will. So it Lithuania. Nice action from both sides. Probably much nicer than the U.S. would prefer at this stage of the game.
1:18: Westbrook with a one-on-five finish for a 55-48 lead.
2:03: Pocius blows past D. Will for the layup. Makes it look easy. 53-46.
2:25: Russell Westbrook blows through two defenders and finishes with the left layup. He was a little erratic earlier but has settled down nicely.
3:04: Melo has 14 points, by the way.
3:19: Kobe with the poke under the basket to break up a wide open layup, CP3 with the outlet to a streaking Melo for the easy finish and a 51-42 lead. The U.S. is playing well. Very well. Lithuania is hanging. There will be no records set tonight, at least no scoring records.
3:48: Martynas Pocius drains a 3 to get within striking distance at 47-42.
5:04: LeBron grabs a Love jumper that was a foot short and lays it in for the 45-37 lead.
5:51: Songaila’s jumper trims the U.S. lead to 43-37. This is a team that doesn’t mind getting in an up and down affair, in stretches, with the U.S.
7:29: Two quick fouls for Durant and he’s on the bench. He leaves his feet a lot on defense and pays for it with the whistles, even when there isn’t significant contact.
8:19: James Harden with the steal, layup, foul and free throw. 39-27. His defensive work has been solid, better than expected even.
8:34: Durant with a win 3 and a 35-27 lead. If you let him spot up out there and contest late, it’s problems.
8:50: Seen it all now. Songaila just got called for a personal foul for yelling at an official after the play was over.
9:11: D. Will with a turnover out of bounds. He heads to the bench a few second later after picking up a foul. His play has been choppy throughout the summer, since Las Vegas, really.
— FIRST QUARTER —
1.2: Melo finishes the quarter the same way he spent the entire Nigeria game, draining a 3-pointer in Songaila’s face for a 33-25 lead at the end of the quarter.
19.5: Iguodala picks up his third foul, which could be an issue for the U.S. later if this game stays tight. He’s one of their best on-ball defenders. 30-25.
30.2: Deron Williams with a 3-pointer for a 30-24 lead.
48.8: Andre Iguodala gets called for an awful foul while applying some outlandish ball pressure.
1:02: Don’t know how he did it, but Love just fought off four Lithuania defenders for a loose ball while laying on his stomach under the basket. Mad hustle work. Sinks the second of two free throws for a 27-22 lead.
2:09: Kevin Love gets on the board with a pretty turnaround baseline jumper off the glass. 26-20.
2:56: LeBron takes a corner step-back 3 that bounces around the rim and no one from the U.S. is within 12 feet of the basket to even attempt to tip it in. They lead 24-20 and are not sharp on their sharp on their defensive rotations.
3:58: Melo’s jumper stretches the lead again.
4;12: Darius Songaila’s baseline jumper makes it 20-18.
4:32: Kleiza with a spot-up 3. He’s doing work on whoever the U.S. assigns to guard him, just like Mike Krzyzewski said he would.
4:53: Kleiza is keeping Lithuania in the game right now with his work in the paint and around the lane. Knocks down his second straight jumper. 18-13.
5;13: Durant with a win 3 to match Melo’s. 18-13.
5;42: Carmelo Anthony enters the game and promptly strokes a deep corner 3. 15-9.
5:52: U.S. leads 12-9. Gave up a corner 3 when their defensive rotations stopped inexplicably on one play.
7:31: Tyson Chandler with a great block on Kleiza. Said it before and I’ll say it again, he is the ideal rim protecting big man for international basketball.
7:45: Kevin Durant knocks down a 3-pointer after some fantastic ball movement. 12-4.
8:16: Kobe drains three free throws for a 9-4 lead after being fouled for the second time on a break. CP3 drained a free throw line jumper for a 6-4 lead. The U.S. point guards have
8:43: Valanciunas scores on the layup and is fouled by Bruant, but misses the free throw. 4-4.
8:53: LeBron James knocks down the jumper off the glass. 4-2.
9;24: Chris Paul answers right back with a driving layup past Jonas Valancinuas. 2-2.
9:34: Lithuania strikes first on a run out from Linas Kleiza, he beat Kobe Bryant down the floor. 2-0.
— PREGAME —
Both teams are on the floor warming up with 25 minutes on the clock until we start.